Amiri Baraka’s Changing Same as Anational Sociality

In a 2004 interview, scholar Charles Rowell asked poet and theorist Fred Moten about his work in relation to the Black Arts Movement. Considering the situation of twenty-first century African American poetics, Rowell invited Moten to talk about his writing and the importance of the "relationship between the experimentalism of the Black Nationalist art and the foundations of aesthetics in African-American vernacular culture." Moten's answer was multifaceted, beginning by framing the question as addressing "the multiple oneness of blackness . . . in its relation to the history and hope of a radical political comportment." Acknowledging the indispensability of the Black Arts Movement, Moten then turned to the significance of Amiri Baraka: "Baraka is not only the condition of possibility of my writing but also almost always anticipates my critiques of him even though the critiques remain necessary."1 Moten's response describes a nexus with Baraka that goes well beyond a narrow lineage of influence, temporal priority, or clear causality. Instead, it foregrounds a shared community unbound by a linear conception of time. The aim of this essay is to bring into sharper view the mode of sociality that Moten articulates in his reply to Rowell and that Baraka's work exemplifies and makes possible. Yet to do so, this essay approaches Baraka differently: although readings of his work tend to portray him as a Black nationalist, I argue that, to grasp "the radical political comportment" of his theorization of Black sociality, we need to read him against the grain of his nationalism.

Baraka's thinking about Black sociality, what Moten calls "the multiple oneness of blackness," sees the relation between individual and collective as temporal via his own conceptualization of the changing same. For Baraka, community persists in and as a conversation that continually refigures its past and future through what Tyrone Williams terms "simultaneously a priori indeterminants and a posteriori determinants."2 Baraka's changing same is the crucial pivot that invites a reading against the grain of his nationalism inasmuch as it resists the nation form's reduction of time to a unidirectional causality. Such a reading is particularly intertwined with Baraka's Marxist perspectives. With James Smethurst, I recognize Baraka as "the author of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, body of Marxist thinking about U.S. culture, particularly music, in the history of the United States."3 However, I make a case for a more incisive Marxist approach to the nation form than what is usually mustered to read Baraka. In Smethurst's work, for example, "the term 'nation' is generally used in the Marxist sense of 'a people' descended from the Third International on the 'National Question,' a line that exerted tremendous influence on the 'Third World Marxism' of Amiri Baraka."4 Smethurst replicates here a Leninist understanding of a people as synonymous with a nation, which in turn belies the assumption that there is a causal relationship between the two, the former becoming the latter. The critical incisiveness I adopt here is oriented toward perceiving the formal differences that separate a people from a nation, and how these project alternative political horizons.

These formal differences are not only present in Marxist thought other than the Leninist lineage of the Third International, but in Baraka's theorizations of Black sociality as well, at times manifesting as tensions, even contradictions. We can see such tensions in "Stages," the preface to Baraka's The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (1984). Baraka notes how the separate stages in his life "are like essays trying to help us understand and illuminate a portion of the American experience":

Within that American experience is the history and life of the African American Nation; a piece of the whole, yet unintegrated into that whole, black noncitizens whose only forward direction must be toward Self-Determination!

For me, being here has always been a condition of struggle and, hopefully, growth.5

Poetically and politically, Baraka's life can be read as an experimental search for the proper position to reflect the experience of Black people and foster the conditions for its expression.6 All the different stages of his life, in Baraka's account, are framed within an ampler African American experience that is part of the US, albeit unintegrated into it. Tensions emerge because for a life of struggle such as his, the depiction of part and whole is troubled by the kind of belongingness that Black noncitizenship poses. Black noncitizenship strains the relation between the Black community and a general US experience particularly as it concerns the presence and mediation of what Baraka terms an African American nation. What is the constitution of this collective of citizens-noncitizens with regards to the US? How to account for the historical direction of an unintegrated social and/or national body heading toward self-determination within the constraints of another nation demanding belongingness and obligation? What is the historical, conceptual, and rhetorical purchase of formulating African American collectivity, or any other minority for that matter, as a nation within a nation?

In the following I argue that despite his nationalist commitments, the overall arc of Baraka's work offers alternative conceptualizations of collectivities that unfold away from the nation. As a polyvalent writer and a prominent figure of the period after the civil rights movements, Baraka works out the relation between vernacular culture and nationalism through a refusal of the terms of national belonging put forth by the US. Yet that refusal does not entirely resolve these tensions. Baraka's complex and shifting, even contradictory, theorizations of community and self-determination describe the search for an aesthetic and political register of belonging which I call the anational. Denoting all possible paths of action beyond the nation, the anational is a gateway concept that aims to reorient and reappraise the particularities of the available forms of agency and communing occluded by the nation form such as peoplehood or the changing same. More specifically, the anational allows this essay to focalize Baraka's investment in Black sociality as a constant throughout his life that subtends and extends beyond his nationalism. Baraka's commitment to Black self-determination, to the history and hope of this radical political comportment, finds its most coherent expression through anational manifestations. This essay follows Moten's gesture in assuming the need to critique Baraka to recuperate the latent possibilities of anational sociality in his poetics.

Baraka's earliest publications, the collection of poetry Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961) and his study of Black music Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), elaborate complex accounts of Black sociality. Much like his exchanges with Moten, these accounts unfold through an understanding of time that eschews homogeneity and linearity. Instead, they participate in a Black radical tradition that Cedric Robinson understands as an outside to the West, as "a revolutionary consciousness that proceeded from the whole historical experience of Black people and not merely from the social formations of capitalist slavery or the relations of production of colonialism."7 In his poetry, Baraka assumes this outside position to essay alternative ways of interaction within the national commodity market that salvage the collective experience of Black people from the commodity fetishism that organizes capitalist social relations. By noting how the nation played a historically significant role in the naturalization of both capitalism and the modern state in Harry Harootunian's phrasing, how the nation served as capital's factotum, facilitating its dispersion and development across the globe we can observe how Baraka's writing articulates an anational realm of sociality subtending commodity circulation.8

In the following section I frame Baraka's nationalism as his answer to a historically contingent question of political agency. Instead of ignoring or rejecting Baraka's nationalist commitments, this first section contextualizes his stance within a global anticolonial moment, allowing us to grasp his political ambitions beyond the nation form. The second section reads Baraka's early poetry and prose to focalize the radical potential of his anational poetics and establish his understanding of Black sociality and the changing same as ongoing concerns throughout this life. Together, these sections read political and poetic form to mark discordances: while the first section considers the imposition of political forms, the second traces expressive irruptions through poetic form. Erica Hunt's description of dominant modes of discourse as a poetics, where "Social life is reduced once again to a few great men or a narrow set of perceptions and strategies stripping the innovative of its power," allows us to register this formal interplay, where the operations of the nation form manifest as a poetics in discordant relation with Baraka's. As the nation form attempts to homogenize the singular proliferation of social life inherent to Baraka's poetics, the changing same's temporal dispositions continually exceed such a reduction of the present in ongoing dialogue with the past. In this regard, the changing same exemplifies how, in Anthony Reed's terms, Black experimental writing "inscribes itself in the margins of the possible, invoking a now at once out of reach and immanent in the present, producing and destabilizing its own contexts for meaning."9 It is such an immanence in the present that the anational focalizes, tracing the connections between a past anterior to the nation form and the future that lies beyond it.


Baraka's concern with peoplehood as intertwined with the changing same is detectable in his earliest publications. In Blues People, he traces the emergence of Black people to the moment when African captives realized that they were not returning home. For him this realization was coterminous with the adoption of English as the form of collective expression:

The stories, myths, moral examples, etc., given in Africa were about Africa. When America became important enough to the African to be passed on, in those formal renditions, to the young, those renditions were in some kind of Afro-American language. And finally, when a man looked up in some anonymous field and shouted, "Oh, Ahm tired a dis mess, / Oh, yes, Ahm so tired a dis mess," you can be sure he was an American.10

For Baraka, Black expression gives form to a tradition that finds prominence with blues music and is characterized by a perpetual return to Black experience. This is the tradition that Baraka would term, evoking his own artistic ambitions, "the changing same": "The Negro's music changed as he changed, reflecting shifting attitudes or (and this is equally important) consistent attitudes within changed contexts."11 The changing same theorizes the relation between individual and collective as historical variations and continuities in Black expression. It animates an improvisational criterion of belonging that Baraka practiced with his search for the proper expression of Black experience; as Moten observes, "Baraka writes about both the loudness (which is to say both the publicness and the sharpness) of the changing of his ways and, more famously, of the sameness of what changes in black cultural life more generally."12 The changing same introduces and informs Baraka's specific understanding of the sphere of Black sociality.

Three years after Blues People, Baraka published "The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music)," an essay on music extending his line of thought from Blues People: "Form and content are both mutually expressive of the whole. And they are both equally expressive. . . . We want different contents and different forms because we have different feelings. We are different peoples."13 However, as his writing about Black expression aims to participate more actively in current political debates, Baraka begins to intercalate as synonymous the ideas of people and nation, to then prioritize the latter over the former. A notable substitution occurs elliptically when he explains how from different versions of reality, different kinds of singing emerge, "Different expressions (of a whole). A whole people . . . a nation, in captivity."14 Consolidating this transformation, Baraka engages in more conventional articulations of nationhood in the following sentences: "Rhythm and Blues is part of 'the national genius' of the Black man, of the Black nation."15 This reconfiguration of peoplehood into nationhood resonates with how he moves toward a more actively political rhetoric, which in "The Changing Same" is most notable when the separation of whole and part, US and Black people, takes the tone of critique, of antagonism. In the embrace of an oppositional stance, Baraka's politics and poetics elliptically transform, beginning to exhibit the nation form's coercive presence.

Such coercion responds to the global paradigm that Baraka was beginning to perceive at the time. "To a growing list of 'dirty' words that make Americans squirm add the word Nationalism," Baraka states in the opening of his brief essay "'black' is a country," published in the 1965 collection Home.16 Pairing it with "communism," Baraka argues that "nationalism" has acquired a negative connotation in the US despite the fact that what he assumes is the definition of the word, "acting in one's interests," is viewed as a legitimate doctrine in the West.17 By following this principle, Baraka explains, Western countries have been capable of amassing their wealth as well as justifying the oppression of other countries. If this is the operative logic over the world, Baraka questions, why then are these exploited countries denied the right to pursue their own interests, to follow the prevailing doctrine?

The "rub," of course, is that when another people or country, who have been used or exploited because it served the best interests of a Western power, suddenly become politically and/or physically powerful enough to begin talking about their own best interests, which of course are usually in direct opposition to the wishes of their exploiters, it is then that Nationalism becomes a dirty word one to be stricken from as many minds as possible, by whatever methods.18

This passage sheds light on the transition from peoplehood to nationhood by inserting it within a colonial situation: Baraka's adoption of a nationalist stance is an adoption of anticolonial efforts. For him, as well as for many contemporary Black nationalists, embracing an anti-imperialist position was the direct outcome of acquiring a global perspective.

For example, for scholar Larry Neal, Baraka's collaborator during the Black Arts Movement, this global perspective manifested as a similar anticolonial solidarity that needed a nationalist stance to become operative in an international scale. Like Baraka, Neal perceived an ongoing struggle amid the Black leadership in the US "between the nationalists and integrationists": "Psychologically, Black America is divided between seeing itself as a separate nation and seeing itself as an integral part of American society. Du Bois referred to this phenomenon as 'double consciousness.'"19 Neal faults integrationists for seeking an equal standing with the rest of US society via citizenship because it forces Black people "to continue waging the fight for total liberation within the limits set by the oppressor": "This is a bad position for an oppressed minority to be in. . . . It further means or assumes that the over-all needs of Black America can be fully satisfied within the framework of the American body politic." The nationalist front, on the other hand, departs from understanding Black people as "'colonized' people instead of as disenfranchised American citizens," colonized people whose struggle "is one with the struggle of oppressed peoples everywhere."20 The call for a global perspective sought to call attention to the example of and the similarities shared with former colonies that had acquired independence during the twentieth century. Kwame Ture echoed this rationale, pointing to recently independent African countries: "This is one reason Africa has such importance: The reality of black men ruling their own nations gives blacks elsewhere a sense of possibility, of power, which they do not now have."21

Baraka's nationalist stance likewise follows the example of anticolonial movements in other countries. The catalyst that he identifies as occasioning his transition from an apolitical poet to a politically committed one was his visit to post-revolutionary Cuba. In 1960, Baraka joined a large delegation of Black intellectuals invited by the Cuban government to visit the island and gain first-hand knowledge of its socialist endeavors. Later acknowledging it as a turning point in his life, Baraka centers his memories of the trip around the criticism that he received from two young Latin American poets for his apolitical approach to poetry. "It is bourgeois individualism, they screamed. That is all it is, bourgeois individualism. For twelve or fourteen hours on the train I was assailed for my bourgeois individualism."22 This attack, paired with the insights of his trip both the Cuba he saw and the exchanges he had with other Black intellectuals occasioned Baraka's poetic and political epiphany.

The latter contextualizes his adoption of an anticolonial stance to resist US oppression in a similar collective mobilization as the one he perceived in Cuba. Yet Baraka's recognition and rejection of bourgeois values troubles the apprehension of nationalism as a direct correlation of an anticolonial stance. There are unacknowledged assumptions active in Baraka's embrace of nationalism that ironically pertain to a bourgeois understanding of history as linear an understanding that in turn has its own historicity.

The reduction of history to a singular process, with a single forward direction, occurs in the aftermath of the French Revolution as an attempt to domesticate the singularity of that event. Massimiliano Tomba describes this transition as the processualization of political concepts, so that notions like democracy or equality "became vectors of historical process."23 The unidirectionality of the concept of history is a byproduct of the ascendance of bourgeois society in the European nineteenth century, by which "historical progress allowed the measuring of the level of (Western) civilisation attained by populations with histories different from those of Europe, thus justifying the domination of those who were represented as lower down the scale."24 The processualization of political concepts was notable since the eighteenth century yet became instrumental in the twentieth century for anticolonial struggles of self-determination, where "nation" comes to signify the prevailing measure of progress: the concept was not meant to idealize, attributing to the nation the capacity to liberate people from colonialism, but it established the terms of recognition. For in the twentieth century and beyond, only as a nation could a collectivity reach the European standard for recognition of its claim to self-determination.

The theoretical revision I follow here bypasses the nation's historiography as the reduction of time to a unidirectional flow of causality to access different conceptions of time and the latent possibilities they may offer such as Baraka's notion of the changing same as a mutually affected relationship between past and present. Tomba observes that this "task has become difficult or even impossible, since capitalism and the modern state have become metahistorical or even 'natural' 'facts.'"25 As I noted above, Harootunian argues that the nation can be understood as capital's factotum in that "the nation-state incorporated the necessity of capitalism's 'immanent laws' of production" and opened the path "to both its own 'objectification' and naturalization of historical fate."

In this way, national history performed merely to mask a more fundamental natural history, whereby the nation-form unsurprisingly managed to reveal a close kinship with the commodity form itself. Nation-form and commodity-form shared both the character of a "mystical thing."26

In this light, the ellipsis that occludes the rationale with which Baraka transitions from peoplehood to nationhood displays a mystifying process not unlike the commodification of an object: just as a commodity's use-value recedes for exchange-value to take its place in the market, peoplehood gives way to nationhood such that its claims to self-determination find their stake on the world stage. I will return to the isomorphism of the commodity form and the nation form below, yet here I dwell on the constraints that this form imposes on Baraka's thinking and the terms in which recognition is conditioned.

In Baraka's account in "'black' is a country," his adoption of nationalism was meant to lead to the "creation of a Black state": "Black Creation is what will free us," he argues, mediating Black expression through the nation to arrive at the "clear act of self determination."27 Together with the predominance of the nation form in his thinking, Baraka's "Black state" evokes the pervasiveness of the nation state as it marks the establishment of a distinct entity with an altogether different set of functions and goals. As John D. Kelly and Martha Kaplan contend, this global system of nation states was imposed after World War II and is epitomized by the birth of the United Nations, where the nation's schematics of horizontal representation are extended to a planetary scale.28 In their reinterpretation of the spread of nations, Kelly and Kaplan offer a critique of Benedict Anderson's model of the nation as an imagined community a critique succinctly glossed by Arjun Appadurai's observation that "One man's imagined community is another man's political prison."29 The nation state follows less the logic of an imagined and voluntary commonality than it does that of a system of coercion: as a veering point away from the imperial ambitions that characterized the first half of the twentieth century, the Cold War and United Nations paradigm inaugurate an age of anticolonization and modernization coordinated by the US with the aim of installing a network of horizontal nation states. This new global paradigm effectively legitimates the European standard for recognition via the UN.

In this context, Neal's claim that the "question of the status of Black America should be brought before the United Nations" reveals the set of expectations that were produced by the emergence of this paradigm, as well as the representative structure it assumed. Neal continues, clarifying his claim: "Not because we have faith in that body, but for educational reasons. We should also attempt to maintain a permanent representative of Black America at the United Nations. Contact between Afro-Americans and delegates to the U.N. must be broadened."30 Although Neal's skepticism reflects an understanding of the imperialist origin of the UN, he still deposits trust in a horizontal structure of representation enabling recognition of African Americans on a global realm. Furthermore, recalling Neal's psychological diagnosis of double consciousness in the two political factions dividing the Black community, we can follow his reliance on Du Bois as repurposing the body politic trope to extend the horizontal representation structure to the form of the citizen. The deployment of this trope participates in the nation form's poetics by framing the question of self-determination in terms akin to those of individual recognition, sublating the wish that Du Bois found in double consciousness "for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face" to the collective.31 The analogy drawn sees (or mystifies) collective recognition through individual recognition as "a co-worker in the kingdom of culture," in Du Bois's terms.32 Although more subtly, a similar structure is in place in the "Stages" preface to Baraka's Autobiography in binding his individual political struggles with the development of a national consciousness that would acquire a recognizable form. Such layering of recognition in tandem with horizontal representation adds to the unexamined causal movement brought about by the historical circumstances that revealed no other path for anticolonial agency but one leading through the nation.

"It's Nation Time Advertising," Amiri Baraka papers, Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.

The early seventies amplified the incongruities of Baraka's nationalism as well as the stakes of the question of the anational in his thinking. This period, following his relocation to Newark, exhibits the tensions between the theorization, activism, and propaganda of Black nationalism and the spatiotemporal reality and oppressive constraints of the nation. The effects of the ongoing battle of attrition Baraka waged against the US become tangible as he tries to sustain his community projects while remaining attached to nationalism. The documents collected in his archives at Howard University, such as his personal financial records from the time, describe a precarious situation of debt accrued with the aim of funding his many social and cultural initiatives. Despite his local and communal investments, Baraka's economic needs reinserted him into a national scene of oppression.

Part of Baraka's activities included leading the political organization Congress for African People (CAP). CAP aimed to publish a newspaper ambitiously titled Nationtime News which sought a wider reach than Baraka's other community newspaper, the more stable and locally distributed Black New Ark (which went on to become Unity & Struggle and expand its distribution). Yet, in its attempt to expand its distribution beyond Newark, Nationtime News was hindered from ongoing production, with seemingly just one edition published. Merchandise branded with the CAP's ideology was advertised in both newspapers as "Nationtime Products," which aimed to assuage the costs of production. Among these, "Nationtime Watches" were advertised with the caption, "Give a gift of consciousness! Helps to remind us who we are - where we came from and where we are going -- 40 times a day!!"

Figure 2: "Nation Time Watches," Amiri Baraka Papers, Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University

These ads introduce a central problem in Baraka's thinking during the seventies: they implicate capitalism in his nationalism. In a telling reversal, Baraka's ambitions for his community appear bound to the circulation of commodities in the national market. The prospect of self-determination, with all its spatiotemporal, social, aesthetic, and political implications, ironically becomes an advertising slogan that fetishizes the tenets of a collectively shared consciousness of the past, present, and future of Black experience. As the commodity takes precedence over the collectivity's futurity, over its claims to sovereignty, its form, like any other commodity's, appears to neutralize the singularity of Black expression. The prominence of blues as an aesthetic category demarcating the uniqueness of Black peoplehood is seemingly superseded by the need to sell a commodified version of African American identity. One interpretation of these ads might claim that, in its incapacity to tell no other time but the homogeneous time of the dominant nation, the CAP's watch exhibits a process of assimilation, wherein the part that Blues People figured as Black experience is no longer singular or distinguishable from the US nation form. A different account, more attuned with Baraka's poetics and with the second section of this essay, would foreground the interplay between the dashiki's production, "handmade by Sister Ahada," with the call to "BOYCOTT PORTUGUESE PRODUCTS" in support of the independence struggles in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau: the temporal dispositions of the changing same can emerge here to disrupt the understanding of these commodities as eliding their conditions of production.

At any rate, this period instills in Baraka the need to begin to unlearn the nation and prioritize Marxism. By the late seventies, he is questioning his Black Nationalist Pan-Africanist stance and shifting toward a Marxist-Leninist perspective that attempts to demystify the nation via scientific analysis. In 1976, CAP officially changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), aiming to redefine their understanding of the nation as class oriented. In The Black Nation, a collective essay begun in 1976 and published in 1979 by the Afro-American Commission of the RCL chaired by Baraka, class solidarity is sought on a multinational level: "The multinational working class is not divided vertically; it is divided horizontally, with blacks and other third world people at the very bottom."33 The Black Nation follows Harry Haywood's historical analysis of the Black Belt to find the origins of Black nationalism in the hindrance of Reconstruction. Although the nation remains an essential idea in their view (the definition for self-determination provided in a glossary still gives the Leninist definition of "the right of nations to decide their own destiny"), the fate of the Black nation is conceptualized as linked to the worker's revolution: "In any view, the liberation of the Black Belt before the proletarian revolution of the United States nation would cause that revolution; likewise, the proletarian revolution of the United States would cause the liberation of the black nation."34 Even as a collective work, where Baraka's views negotiate those of other authors, The Black Nation exhibits a dilution of the nation form's pervasiveness by having it interact with the proletariat as a distinct collectivity, and with the return of peoplehood as in the aforementioned reference to "blacks and other third world people at the very bottom."

Also in 1976, Baraka published the poetry collection Hard Facts, wherein he stated his turn away from the nation more directly:

Earlier our own poems came from an enraptured patriotism that screamed against whites as the eternal enemies of Black people, as the sole cause of our disorder + oppression. The same subjective mystification led to mysticism, metaphysics, spookism, &c., rather than dealing with reality, as well as an ultimately reactionary nationalism that served no interests but our newly emerging Black bureaucratic elite and petit bourgeois, so that they would have control over their Black market.35

Moving away from the rhetoric he held in the late sixties and early seventies, Baraka disowns the antagonism and mystifications that upheld his "reactionary nationalism." Although he still conceives of Black nationalism as necessary for the "Black Liberation Movement," the need for a subsequent revolutionary phase frames nationalism as another stage in his life and in the path toward self-determination. In other words, just as nationalism needed to be embraced and learned, by the late seventies Baraka understood that the moment to unlearn nationalism and find a more revolutionary stance had arrived.

Assessing the poetry published in Hard Facts, Nathaniel Mackey reflects on the turning point it entails in Baraka's life. Mackey observes how Baraka "explicitly disowns his earlier nationalist position" but he also registers other changes, such as the dropping of his Muslim title Imamu (meaning "teacher," an epithet he had adopted as part of the Kawaida doctrine), and his attacks against Kenneth Gibson, the mayor of Newark whom he had helped elect. These changes inform the disenchantment Baraka felt toward some of his political and aesthetic strategies, in particular regarding his participation in the nation's governing processes and representative structures. However, as Mackey claims, "Black music continues to be invoked respectfully invoked serving in Hard Facts, as in earlier work, as a harbinger of change."36 Returning more explicitly to the investment of Blues People in black expression, Baraka's conceptualization of the changing same takes priority again in his aesthetics, a tendency that would prevail in his poetry in the following decades.

Baraka's nationalist phase reveals more about the nation form's pervasiveness, and the limited forms of political agency offered to minoritized collectives, than it does about his political comportment. Instead, we should understand his political and poetic antagonism to the US as part of an ongoing experimental drive for alternatives to nationalism itself. In a 1992 letter addressed to Clayton Eshleman, Baraka speaks of Aimé Césaire's poetic need to destroy French forms: "The 'destruction of French forms' means that Cesaire wanted the language, French, to be his French, an expression of his experience, an expression of the experience of the colonized. He had to wrest the language from the colonizers."37 Although more specifically concerned with an essay Baraka wrote "ca. 79 when teaching Cesaire at Yale," I interpret this explanation and especially this last sentence as part of Baraka's reflections on his own poetics and its development over more than three decades. Like Césaire's articulation of anticolonial frameworks for ideating alternative forms of collectivities (such as the concept of Négritude and his marking the danger implicit in the transition from man to nation by acknowledging the latter is a "bourgeois phenomenon"38), Baraka's poetics proceeded by wresting away an anticolonial language from the nation form and its poetics.

After the bellicose anti-white poetics of Black Magic (1969) and his most manifest nationalist poetry in It's Nation Time (1970), where Baraka most insistently tries to conflate peoplehood with nationhood while attempting to balance the mystifications this process entails, his poetry revalorizes the category of peoplehood. In Wise Why's Y's (1995), for example, the concerns of Blues People reemerge with a transhistorical and collective voice that, in the first poem of the collection, understands the danger of finding yourself "surrounded / by enemies / who won't let you / speak in your own language / who destroy your statues / & instruments, who ban / your oom boom ba boom."39 Colonial oppression no longer instills the need for nationalism, but for the expression of the experience of the oppressed through their own singular forms, here evoked through the onomatopoeic percussions of African rhythms.

An anational lens can aid us in reframing Baraka's political commitments as it interrogates the terms through which the question of the nation is posed and its coercive function carried out. The anational opens onto a panorama of alternatives that expand the stakes of the question from its historical contingencies to its ahistorical potentials. It allows us to read against the grain of the reductive account of history and follow Robinson's claim "that bourgeois culture and thought and ideology were irrelevant to the development of revolutionary consciousness among Black and other Third World peoples."40 By reassessing Baraka's Black sociality as indebted to and participating in the Black radical tradition, his claim to self-determination can find intrinsic expression without acquiring the form of the nation such expression as it finds in the changing same and in the assertion, in Wise Why's Y's, that "what is spoken / is the living / the flesh / & its / Movement." Without the need to find recourse to the nation form for recognition, Baraka reconciles political and poetic form as expressive of the Black radical tradition: "Thas alright, alright wit me / But I been gone, naw, I been gone / / my shape look like black on black / and fading."41 It is the fugitivity of this fading but expressive shape that the anational foregrounds by attending to the disruptive potentials inherent to the innumerable outsides that surround the nation when conceived not as ubiquitous but as spatiotemporally bound.


Baraka's early poetry allows us to grasp the anational potentials of the changing same. Preface displays the singularity of Black sociality as political and aesthetic praxis.42 For example, the concerns of Blues People are legible in the second poem of Preface, "Hymn for Lanie Poo," which begins:

these wild trees
will make charming wicker baskets,
the young woman
the young black woman,
the young black beautiful woman

These wild-assed trees
will make charming
wicker baskets.

(now, I'm putting words in her mouth...tch)43

The apostrophic address that begins this poem has an ambiguous origin as possibly reported speech. In the unfolding qualities of "the young Black beautiful woman," a prolongation of the moment occurs, delaying the provenance of speech. By the time the phrase is reasserted in indented lines, not only has the apostrophic marker been dropped, but, as the parenthetical admits, the phrase has been altered. The presence of the apostrophe is diffused as either a liberty taken by the poem's speaker or an omission in the altered reassertion of the young Black beautiful woman's observation.

If, as Jonathan Culler argues, "to apostrophize is to will a state of affairs, to attempt to call it into being by asking inanimate objects to bend themselves to your desire,"44 this desire is shared by both speakers in the poem she projecting forward in time ("these wild trees / will make charming wicker baskets"), "I" projecting backward in time ("the young black beautiful woman / said") such that they meet in the single will of the utterance that the speaker repeats. Just as the anaphoric modification of "young woman" spreads over time, acquiring more adjectives, the will of the apostrophe extends over time. And it does so, the parenthetical aside tells us, in embodied ways, going from her mouth to the indexical "tch" that marks the speaker's mouth as the producer of sound. In "Hymn for Lanie Poo" a shared desire and its embodied expression unite past and present in their projection toward the future.

The apostrophic "O" in "Hymn" serves another function in the broader structure of the poem. After the quoted fragment a break occurs and numbered sections begin, which suggest that the above can be considered a preface or a zero/"0" section grounding the poem's overall temporal organization. The rest of the poem conflates a contemporary quotidian urbanity with an imagined African reality tinted with tribal elements. The lines "All afternoon / we sit around / near the edge of the city / hacking open / crocodile skulls" or "I wobble out to / the edge of the water / give my horny yell / & 24 elephants / stomp out of the subway / with consecrated hardons" depict a combined experience of routine as America is overlapped with Africa. This pairing led Jay Wright to comment that when reading this poem, "We are both in the past and the present. But the past is not accepted. We have distorted it. We do not see it as a real historical present where consequential events occur and consequential values reside."45 However, what Wright sees as the poem's failure to yield consequentially to the past, I interpret as an investment in the blues tradition Baraka is studying, theorizing, and practicing. Wright's reading conceives of Baraka's exchanges with the past as distortions because, beyond their playfulness, he imposes an a fortiori causal view of time. The latter would fit a temporal logic attuned to national historiography, where the past is the cause for the present, and the present is always consequential. The temporal exchanges that Baraka toys with during this early period, rendering past and present as responsive to each other, are not compatible with the nation's temporal linearity.

Although written roughly around the same time, Preface was published before Blues People. Considered together, both evince Baraka's thinking about expression as theory and praxis. The fourth section of "Hymn" further elaborates this dynamic of experiential and expressive intimacy in an expansive now through an investment in the quotidian:

Each morning
I go down
to Gansevoort St.
and stand on the docks.
I stare out the horizon
until it gets up
and comes to embrace
me. I
make believe
it is my father.
This is known
as genealogy.46

The circadian cyclicality of reaching the edge of Manhattan to face the Hudson River until sunrise describes a routine oriented toward the past, where the westward trajectory of the Middle Passage is traced anew daily by the sun. Yet this orientation toward the past is not unidirectional; it does not follow, as Wright criticized, a rigorous consequential apprehension of the past as factual. Rather "Hymn" acknowledges the "make believe" quality of its orientation toward the past, opening the present's relation to the past through a willful poetics. By meeting the sun daily with a westward stare, the speaker of the poem participates in an active dialogue where past and present transform each other as they face the future.

With this state of affairs in place, "Hymn" returns to its initial lines in order to reinstate the mutual susceptibility of past and present to each other:

don't be shy honey.
we all know this wicker baskets
would make wild-assed trees47

The reversal at stake in this reformulation of the relation between baskets as trees questions the predominance of the past over the present by undoing the causality of production, undoing the product into its sources. Considering the function of apostrophe in the opening of "Hymn" as enabling a conversation with the past, we can mark what Moten describes as "a lyric disruption of a certain Europeanized notion of public/national history and historical trajectory as well as an exterior/African disruption of the interiority of European lyric."48 The presence of such temporal constructions implies a political position aligned with an acknowledged racial experience that is studied more extensively in Blues People and conforms to Baraka's general conceptualization of the changing same.

This singular temporality as lyrical disruption is further explored as the collection continues. The two poems that follow "Hymn for Lanie Poo" in Preface, "In Memory of Radio" and "Look for You Yesterday, Here You Come Today," dwell on Baraka's relation to popular culture during the early sixties. "In Memory of Radio" reminisces about the radio shows that Baraka listened to as a kid with the first line pondering "Who has ever stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?" in reference to the protagonist of the pulp novel-turn-radio drama The Shadow. "Look for You Yesterday" extends this perspective by addressing comic books, but also acknowledging a "maudlin nostalgia."49 Together, these poems theorize Baraka's nostalgia for the popular culture of his childhood as it operates in relation to his moment of writing. However, these poems transform nostalgia by putting it in conversation with blues music already evoked by the allusion to Count Basie in the poem's title.

The conversation between blues and popular culture illustrates the forms of genre attachment through which Baraka's nostalgia develops. His nostalgic attachment to genre instills a historic stasis upon these poems where the question of "When will world war two be over?" returns as an incapacity to manage the social upheaval of the sixties an incapacity which insists that "THERE MUST BE A LONE RANGER!!!" to confer the old order that is longed for. "All the lovely things I've known have disappeared," Baraka confesses in "Look Here for You Yesterday," seemingly embracing a nostalgic mood that cannot find valuable attachments in the present. However, his embrace of nostalgia is duplicitous, as is the love Baraka proffers for these disappeared things; "In Memory of Radio" communicates a suspicion about this word:

& Love is an evil word.
Turn it backwards/see, see what I mean?
An evol word. & besides
who understands it?
I certainly wouldn't like to go out on that kind of limb.50

As playful and jejune as his reversal of the word is, it signals a profound awareness of the forms of attachment, the kinds of limbs, upon which his nostalgia rests. Baraka shows that there is a flip side to the word "love" (his emphasis is on the signifier) which reveals the attachment that these genres enable. As exhibiting evil, this flip side shows how forms of attachment can modulate their visibility, much like the protagonist of The Shadow:

What was it he used to say (after the transformation, when he was safe & invisible & the unbelievers couldn't throw stones?) "Heh, heh, heh, Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows."51

Along with the reversal of evol/evil into love and vice versa, The Shadow's knowledge of the intimate attachments "of men" evokes not only the material properties of shadow, but of the medium through which this content is broadcast.

Radio waves come to symbolize the infrastructural invisibility of this evil/love that coordinates Baraka's nostalgia. Their reach is portrayed as near ubiquitous. Baraka's question about "the divinity of Lamont Cranston" implies that, even if not everyone has thought about it, everyone might have because everyone was listening to the radio, albeit to another station: "(Only Jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me. / The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith, / Or something equally unattractive.)"52 That Baraka addresses this "rest of you" as completing a whole suggests that radio itself inaugurates a social space, generating its publics through a criterion that Michael Warner describes as "stranger-relationality": unlike the manifest positive content of the nation, a public "unites strangers through participation alone."53 Baraka explores such stranger-relationality by considering the stakes of aesthetic attention as collectively binding.

Comic books, on the other hand, emblematize his understanding of commodity circulation as another collective bond. A similar scene of sociality resulting from the space generated by the circulation of popular mass media takes place in "Look Here for You Yesterday":

People laugh when I tell them about Dickie Dare!
What is one to do in an alien planet
where the people breath New Ports?
Where is my space helmet, I sent for it
3 lives ago...when there were box tops.

What happened to box tops??

O, God...I must have a belt that glows green
in the dark. Where is my Captain Midnight decoder??
I can't understand what Superman is saying!54

These lines playfully depict Baraka's nostalgia by creating spaces where his voice oscillates between different instances of occlusion and disclosure in relation to forms of possession and lack. Nostalgia is undercut as the one ordering presence, debilitating Baraka's need for the popular culture genres. In the last quoted line, Baraka is unable to understand Superman, the quintessential nationalist superhero. Emblematic of his relationship to this pantheon of comic-book characters, Superman's unintelligibility renders Baraka's attachment to nostalgia tenuous. As an interpretive problem, not understanding conveys a similar dynamic to that of the love/evil reversal, where the signifier strays away from its signified. This dynamic qualifies the presence of commodities: although Superman is perceived in the act of utterance, form is detached from content in the same way that the box tops lack a content and fail to deliver their promise of exchange in the way of a space helmet.

Marking the absence of a decoder projects a scene of impermeable surfaces where proper names elude clear referents and blend with brand names. In this scene, commodities are metonymically referenced through Newport cigarettes as ubiquitous as a planet's breathable air. More to the point, the absence of a space helmet denies the sense of safety that Baraka seeks, depriving him from any relief from his nostalgia even though he participated in the infantilized transaction of commodity exchange lawfully and ought to have received his helmet. Together, these poems portray getting older as developing an awareness about the public sphere's inculcation of ordering myths during childhood. Baraka distances his poetic vocation from the figure of the order-keeping hero, adapting it to portray how these myths fail to fulfill their promises by estranging their referents an estrangement pithily captured in the title's chiasmic temporality: "Look for You Yesterday, Here You Come Today."

A reversal similar to the flipping of the word "love" takes place in his approach to the commodity market in the sense that Baraka does not remain attached to either these commodity surfaces or these invisible infrastructures. Rather, his reversal entails participating within this national public sphere through the same superficiality and invisibility he perceives, thereby eluding these forms of attachment and adopting the dynamic of a counterpublic. For Warner, a counterpublic offers stranger-relationality to a minoritized subject, providing "a sense of active belonging that masks or compensates for the real powerlessness of human agents in capitalist society," or, in Baraka's case, agency within the commodity market.55 We can see in these surface slippages what Mackey described in Baraka's poetry (repurposing a description by Baraka himself) as a "manifold, many-meaninged, polysemous" alternate voice that "slides away from the proposed": "One hears the pronouncements, the propositions. One also hears the slips, the slides, the shifting ratios rhythmic, predicative, quick."56 Such a polysemous and polyvocal slippage comes about as a retreat to the sphere of sociality practiced by the changing same; the blues points to a way out of the nostalgia that dominates these poems.

Perhaps taking a cue from what Robert Johnson describes, in "Kind Hearted Woman," as studying evil all the time, particularly with regard to love, Baraka's nostalgia for popular mass media needs to be assessed through the inflections that blues music performs on his poetry.57 For example, both poems give blues the last word: while "In Memory of Radio" follows The Shadow's monologue with a blues quatrain ("O, yes he does / O, yes he does. / An evil word it is, / This Love),"58 "Look Here for You Yesterday" closes with the following description: "My silver bullets all gone / My black mask trampled in the dust / / & Tonto way off in the hills / moaning like Bessie Smith."59 In a scene of departures perceived from the point of view of the Lone Ranger, the mythology of the superhero begins to vanish. Yet Tonto, far off as he may be in the hills, persists through his moan heard as Bessie Smith's. As form and as referent, the blues tradition constitutes an alternative way of relating to the loss of order in both poems; precisely as a form of attachment to a changing same and a form of detachment from nostalgia, Bessie Smith, long dead by the time Baraka writes, provides an anchor for loss's similarity in difference, allowing the decoding of the far-off but lingering presence of this Native American caricature-turn-blues singer as a surreptitious minor voice haunting the public sphere.

Years later, in 1979, Baraka would write a play titled "What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production?" where the full extent of his study of and detachment from nostalgia is displayed: taking place inside a factory, the play depicts the Lone Ranger becoming the owner of the means of production to announce a new totalitarian order, while Tonto returns from death as a ghost momentarily possessing one of the workers in the factory to condemn the Lone Ranger's Manifest Destiny ideology and to plot the destruction of his capitalist order.60

The mediation granted by the blues tradition amounts to what Houston A. Baker Jr. terms critical memory. One of two rhetorical forms of construing the past, critical memory opposes nostalgia which for Baker entails "a purposive construction of a past filled with golden virtues, golden men and sterling events" much like those of Baraka's popular culture pantheon. Critical memory, on the other hand, "is the very faculty of revolution. Its operation implies a continuous arrival at turning points. . . . The essence of critical memory's work is the cumulative, collective maintenance of a record that draws into relationship significant instants of time past and the always uprooted homelessness of now."61 Similar to how Baraka theorizes and practices the changing same, Baker describes the cumulative temporality of a meaningful past in relation to an uprooted present.

For Baker, critical memory is central to the production of a Black public sphere emerging against the grain of the predominant, white-supremacist, public sphere that organizes the US and its impositions upon Black life. As "the 'b,' or negative, side of a white imaginary of public life in America," Baker argues, "black Americans have so aptly read this flip side [that] They are drawn to the possibilities of structurally and affectively transforming the founding notion of the bourgeois public sphere into an expressive and empowering self-fashioning."62 One possible interpretation of Baker's Black sphere risks construing it as the mirror of a white public sphere, constraining the revolutionary faculty of critical memory within the national frame of transforming (or reforming) the bourgeois public sphere. In fact, Baker acknowledges such nationalist possibilities when he refers to the US Constitution and national flag as "valued sites of patriotism and pride for the black public sphere."63 However, in Baraka there is an inherent dynamism in the form of blues-inflected lyrical disruptions that proceeds by flipping the dominant account of the public sphere, describing a more volatile form of sociality, particularly with regard to Warner's notion of stranger-relationality turned diasporic. That is, if Baker considers that the Black public sphere originates as a flipped side of the national public sphere, then the potential I trace in Baraka's conception of Black sociality unfolds in an incessant flipping that constantly turns away from the visibility of a public sphere and instead recedes into a fugitive public or hidden sphere of sociality. This dynamism pertains to Baraka's blues-inflected conceptualization of cultural objects circulating as commodities.

For example, in "The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music)," Baraka argues that despite its commodification R&B music is closer to blues, to the changing same, than is avant-garde contemporary jazz. He describes some jazz musicians as weakening toward "a middle-class place" where assimilation turns likelier: "There are simply more temptations for the middle-class Negro because he can make believe in America more, cop out easier, become whiter and slighter with less trouble, than most R&B people."64 Coolness, in Baraka's evaluation, comes to describe an assimilative process, an intellectual tendency toward abstraction that distances from the Black tradition:

Literary Negro-ness, the exotic instance of abstract cultural resource, say in one's head, is not the Black Life Force for long if we are isolated from the real force itself, and, in effect, cooled off. Cool Jazz was the abstraction of these life forces. There can be a cool avant, in fact there is, already. The isolation of the Black artist relating to, performing and accommodating his expression for aliens.65

Coolness here measures the extent to which culture has been abstracted and excised from its praxis, as well as the fragmentation of the collective and the individualization of the artist as an isolated intellectual. In "What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production?" Tuffy, a labor bureaucrat siding with the Lone Ranger, goes as far as calling the capitalist world system of racism and women's oppression "the rule of the cool."66 In contrast, R&B music retains a proximity to the collective because it circulates as commodity. Williams reflects on this situation when he notes that "In having to accept the values underlying rhythm and blues, funk, and rap, Baraka finds himself reading anti-bourgeois values into bourgeois commodities."67 Contrasting with his embrace of nationalism as an anti-bourgeois gesture that reproduced bourgeois values, Baraka's engagement with commodities prioritizes Black expression: "This critical strategy is valid to the extent Baraka confines anti-bourgeois values to one value the blues impulse that overrides both bourgeois and anti-bourgeois values."68 Baraka finds something more radical, "Blacker," in this music because, beyond its commodification, it can communicate Black life: "That life. It screams. It yearns. It pleads. It breaks out . . . the vibrations of a feeling, of a particular place, a conjunction of world spirit, some of everybody can pick up on. . . . It is an ominous world alright."69 Black popular culture bears a similarity to stranger-relationality and fugitive publics, as it connects Black people and animates peoplehood through the circulation of its cultural objects.

If the commodity form designates congealed social labor, Baraka speaks of an expressive excess that disrupts the commodity's surface. This is the life that "screams," "yearns," "pleads," and "breaks out" beyond the commodity fetishism that substitutes social relations with commodity relations. R&B music does not cool down in isolation because it circulates and reproduces Black sociality as an instantiation of what Moten calls the ensemble, which "is given through the object, the thing, the artwork, as the rebellion of its laws of motion."70 Baraka conceives of a fissure in the commodity form where the process of its production, the labor congealed in its constitution, remains available as a mode of sociality attuned to the reciprocity between past and present. The temporal reversal at play here is already sketched in "Hymn for Lanie Poo" when considering the deconstruction of wicker baskets into the elements that constitute them: "we all know this wicker baskets / would make wild-assed trees."71 It likewise informs the anticolonial interplay between the Nationtime handmade dashikis in their proximity to a call for solidarity against Portuguese colonialism. Just as the temporal linearity that organizes the nation form is susceptible to reversal when considered through the changing same, the commodity form is also liable to be perceived through the elements that comprise it. Baraka's sociality works through the commodity's and the nation's isomorphism, doing away with these mystified forms by rupturing their surfaces to reveal the historical experience of Black people.

In other words, Baraka's argument pertains to the conditions of possibility of expression with regards to this "history and hope of a radical political comportment." These are the conditions of possibility within which Moten places his own writing and this is the spatiotemporality he describes when, in his critical study In the Break, he thinks about "how the commodity who speaks, in speaking, in the sound the inspirited materiality of that speech, constitutes a kind of temporal warp that disrupts and augments not only Marx but the mode of subjectivity that the ultimate object of his critique, capital, both allows and disallows."72 These conditions of possibility refer back to Blues People,to the singularity of Black experience and its expression; they mark the event of slavery as the production of commodities that speak, an event both inherent to capitalism's spread around the globe and disruptive of capitalism's axiology.

Contrary to the Marxian mechanics of commodity circulation, where value is not inherent to the commodity but determined with respect to other commodities in the market, the expressive commodity is "inspirited" with an interiority. In Moten's analysis, "The speaking commodity thus cuts Marx," occasioning an "irruption [that] breaks down the distinction between what is intrinsic and what is given by or of the outside; here what is given inside is that which is out-from-the-outside, a spirit manifest in its material expense or aspiration."73 Such an irruption, per the conditions of possibility of Moten's writing, is present in Baraka's thinking about Black music circulating in the public sphere; this is the dynamism that describes Black expression as an incessant and excessive flipping yielding an interiority available as Black sociality. "And the social consciousness displayed in that music. Pharoah Sanders will say OMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. Which is more radical than sit-ins. We get to Feel-Ins, Know-Ins, Be-Ins."74 Baraka's paraphrase of Sanders is indexical, deictic; the elongated "OM" does not convey the expressive excess at play, but only points to it, away from the page, in the aural register of voice, inside of it. Voice contains a world of expression and experience, of feeling, knowledge, and being. It is an interior world that coordinates the radical prospect of revolutionary potentials beyond the surface of the commodity form and beyond the written page, an interiority preserving and fostering forms of Black sociality. Yet such potentials lose their singularity and radicality when read within the nation form they are excised from their praxis and cool down in a colonial framework.

In a reading of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Moten addresses the mystifying nature of the nation and commodity forms when he describes how the mercantilism that shaped the emergence of the US "remains the bloody open secret of American development," a claim that indexes the historical function of the nation form as capital's factotum. In manufacturing a national general interest through antagonism, the state produces abstract general equivalents in "the form of the citizen as national unit and in the form of money," both in relation to the nation and commodity forms respectively. With this backdrop, we see the irruptions of an anational position between citizenship and money that is neither. In disavowing citizenship and rupturing the commodity form, the changing same shows how such irruptions emerge from an anational position that punctures and demarcates the nation form.

At this point Moten ventures a hypothesis resonant with Wise Why's Y's: "If to be valued is to suffer the brutal and final imposition of form, then perhaps the invaluable emerges not in formlessness but, rather, in a giving and receiving of form that is both substantive and indeterminate, where thingliness fades into the presence of nothingness."75 It is in the evanescent appearance of the fugitive voice admitting "I been gone, naw, I been gone / / my shape look like black on black / and fading," much like "Tonto way off in the hills / moaning like Bessie Smith," that the irruption of minor expression generates a lyrical form as a singularity unconcerned with recognition or valuation by the nation.76 An anational potential flares up in the ephemeral irruptions of such Black sociality, inviting a toggle between our contemporary perspective and a future one shaped by the past.

Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Kentucky. His research and teaching focus on US minority literature in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and on hemispheric poetry and translation.

Banner Image: Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten, public domain


  1. Fred Moten and Charles Rowell, "Words Don't Go There" in b Jenkins (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 110-111. []
  2. Tyrone Williams, "'The Changing Same': Value in Marx and Amiri Baraka" in Communism and Poetry, Writing Against Capital, eds. Ruth Jennison and Julian Murphet (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 88. []
  3. James Smethurst, Brick City Vanguard (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2020), 15. []
  4. Ibid., 16. []
  5. Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1997), xxvii. []
  6. The notion of stages becomes a fitting descriptor for a life such as Baraka's, which comprises several contrasting episodes in a complex arc of historical transition. After spending time in the military, the most notable stages in Baraka's life include a period in Greenwich Village collaborating with the most prominent groups of the New American Poetry (the Beats, the New York School, Black Mountain, and the San Francisco Renaissance); a move to Harlem to found the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BART/S) in what is generally described as his revolutionary nationalist phase; a return to his home in Newark to engage in community work and cultural nationalism through his attachment to Kawaida; and the subsequent adoption of a Marxist perspective, nonetheless present in his thinking since years before. It is at this point that we catch up with him, when he writes his Autobiography in the early eighties. []
  7. Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), 169. []
  8. Harry Harootunian. Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 35-36. []
  9. Anthony Reed, Freedom Time (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 22. []
  10. LeRoi Jones. Blues People (New York: Morrow Quill, 1963), xii. []
  11. Ibid., 153. []
  12. Moten and Rowell, "Words Don't Go There," 111. []
  13. LeRoi Jones. Black Music (New York: Akashic Books, 2011), 180. []
  14. Ibid., 185. []
  15. Ibid., 179-180. []
  16. LeRoi Jones, Home (New York: Akashic Books, 2009), 101. []
  17. Jones, HomeIbid., 101. []
  18. Ibid., 102. []
  19. Lawrence P. Neal, "Black Power in the International Context" in The Black Power Revolt, ed. Floyd P. Barbour (Toronto: Collier, 1969), 159. []
  20. Ibid., 160. []
  21. Stokely Carmichael, "Power & Racism" in The Black Power Revolt, ed. Floyd P. Barbour (Toronto: Collier, 1969), 72-73. []
  22. Baraka, Autobiography, 244. []
  23. Massimiliano Tomba. Marx's Temporalities, trans. Peter D. Thomas and Sara R. Farris (Leiden: Brill, 2013), ix. []
  24. Ibid., ix. []
  25. Ibid., viii. []
  26. Harootunian, Marx After Marx, 35-36. []
  27. Amiri Baraka, Raise Race Rays Raze (New York: Random House, 1971), 107. []
  28. Martha Kaplan and John D. Kelly, Represented Communities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). []
  29. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 32. []
  30. Neal, "Black Power," 167. []
  31. For his part, Du Bois's own appeal to the United Nations in 1946 exhibits a different global paradigm that does not rely on the nation form for recognition. Titled "An Appeal to the World," Du Bois's request to the UN is that it address the condition of disenfranchisement and segregation experienced by African Americans, which are almost considered a nation because of these exterior circumstances: "Decision in this matter has been largely determined by outer compulsion rather than inner plan; for prolonged policies of segregation and discrimination have involuntarily welded the mass almost into a nation within a nation with its own schools, churches, hospitals, newspapers and many business enterprises." There certainly is an overlap between Du Bois's description and Baraka's and Neal's account of a Black Nation. Yet the stakes of internationally recognizing the conditions of the African American population not only dispense with the nation form, but see its imposition as a manifestation of these conditions. W. E. B. Du Bois, "An Appeal to the World" in The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois Reader, ed. Eric J. Sundquist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 454. []
  32. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9. []
  33. Afro-American Commission of The Revolutionary Communist League (MLM), The Black Nation (New Ark: Unity & Struggle Publications, 1995), 51. Although the only individual name that appears in the publication is Baraka's, it does so as the chair of the Commission. Coauthor and Commission-member Michael Simanga recalls the collective creation of the document as well as the time it took to develop. Michael Simanga, Amiri Baraka and the Congress of African People (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015), 174. []
  34. Afro-American Commission of RCL, 61, 51. []
  35. Amiri Baraka, Hard Facts (Newark: Congress of Afrikan People, 1976), iv-v. []
  36. Nathaniel Mackey, "The Changing Same: Black Music in the Poetry of Amiri Baraka" in boundary 2 6, no. 2 (Winter, 1978), 357-358. []
  37. Amiri Baraka papers, Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Columbia University, box 1, folder 4. []
  38. Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. John Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 74. []
  39. Amiri Baraka, Wise Why's Y's (Chicago: Third World Press, 1995), 7. []
  40. Robinson, Black Marxism, 276. []
  41. Baraka, Wise Why's Y's, 72, 17. []
  42.  Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note has usually been read as an initial sampler of the styles and schools that interested Baraka but also as lacking a political guiding line. Kristen Gallagher, for example, has described the book as "equal parts field poetics, Beat, and NY School," asserting that at this point in his career "Jones hasn't arrived at a style quite yet, but instead presents an amalgam of influences." Similarly, Jay Wright, writing closer to the collection's publication, acknowledged how obvious it was that Baraka was following "many of the precepts and practices of his associates in the 'New American Poetry.'" The influence of the several groups that Baraka was in contact during this time, living in Greenwich Village and editing the poetry journal Yūgen with Hattie Cohen, is unquestionable. But my reading of Preface rather traces the concerns that Baraka voices in Blues People. Kristen Gallagher, "On LeRoi Jones, 'Preface to A Twenty-Volume Suicide Note,'" Jacket2 (2011); Jay Wright, "Love's Emblem Lost: LeRoi Jones's 'Hymn for Lanie Poo,'" boundary 2 6, no. 2 (Winter, 1978): 417. []
  43. Amiri Baraka, S.O.S. (New York: Grove Press, 2014),4. []
  44. Jonathan Culler, Pursuit of Signs (New York: Routledge, 1981), 154. []
  45. Wright, "Love's Emblem Lost,'" 421. []
  46. Baraka, S.O.S.,8. []
  47. Ibid.,6. []
  48. Fred Moten, Black and Blur (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 8-9. []
  49. In fact, Baraka would later comment that "Look for You Yesterday" is "about my vision of my childhood, some of the things that have stayed with me and how I used these things to show that I am gradually older." Quoted in Werner Sollors, Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a "Populist Modernism" (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 53. []
  50. Baraka, S.O.S.,12. []
  51. Ibid.,13. []
  52. Ibid.,12. []
  53. Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 75. []
  54. Baraka, S.O.S.,16. []
  55. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 113. []
  56. Nathaniel Mackey, Paracritical Hinge (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018), 188. []
  57. The specific gist of Johnson's intervention with his version of this song is to give prominence to the dichotomy of evil and love: developed from an earlier blues song by Bumble Bee Slim, "Cruel Hearted Woman Blues," which in turn was based on "Mean Mistreater Mama" by Leroy Carr, Johnson's version foregrounds kindness in relation to the study of evil. []
  58. Baraka, S.O.S.,13. []
  59. Ibid.,18. []
  60. Amiri Baraka, The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader, ed. William J. Harris (New York: Thunder Mouth's Press, 1991), 273. []
  61. Houston A. Baker, Jr., "Critical Memory and the Black Public Sphere" in The Black Public Sphere, ed. The Black Public Sphere Collective (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 7. []
  62. Ibid.., 13. []
  63. Ibid.., 23. []
  64. Jones, Black Music, 196. []
  65. Ibid., 192. []
  66. Baraka, The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader, 284. []
  67. Williams, "The Changing Same," 83. []
  68. Ibid. []
  69. Jones, Black Music, 203-204. []
  70. Fred Moten, Stolen Life (Durham: Duke University Press), 60. []
  71. Baraka, S.O.S.,6. []
  72. Fred Moten, In the Break (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 11. []
  73. Ibid., 14. []
  74. Jones, Black Music, 204. []
  75. Moten, Stolen Life, 73, 79, 78, 81. []
  76. Baraka, Wise Why's Y's, 17; S.O.S.,18. []